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Bo Obama
Adorable puppy, less-than-ideal name
President Barack Obama with Bo at the White House.

President Obama has had many opportunities to comment on his own name. I laughed when he joked that “Barack” means “that one” and when he kidded around that he got the name “Obama” from his Dad, but that “Hussein” came from somebody who obviously thought that he would never run for President. Clearly, he knows that a name is important.

At least he knows that for people. By now, we’ve all read about his new Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, who apparently was named partly as a reference to the fact that his father-in-law had the nickname “Diddley.” Naming new family members with respect to other relatives is charming, and I generally encourage it. However, a side effect of this particular naming is that the poor dog’s name rhymes with “No.”

Dogs are often startled into stopping or at least pausing in undesirable behavior by sudden exclamations of “No!” or “Hey!” which is why I always encourage clients to avoid names that sound too much like either one. It can be quite confusing for a dog to think he hears his name said in an abrupt way, which is the way that “No!” is most often said to puppies. Ideally, puppies should associate their name with feeling good, not with feeling startled.

Barack Obama is thriving in spite of various nomenclature challenges. Let’s hope the same good fortune follows the adorable Bo. Here are some tips on naming a dog.

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

White House photo by Pete Souza.

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